How does identity theft of deceased person happen?

If you’ve been receiving preapproved credit cards or calls from credit collectors about the debt of a deceased loved one, you may be a victim of deceased identity theft. 

In this article, we’ll teach you what deceased identity theft is and how to recognize its signs. We’ll also tell you how to resolve it, plus some tips so you can prevent it from happening altogether. 

We know the feeling of losing a loved one and them falling victim to ID theft is an added pain. That’s why we looked into how it happens. With tactics getting more innovative, it pays to stay informed of the latest methods criminals employ in their scams.

Don’t miss out on crucial steps to securing your loved one’s information. Keep reading until the very end to find the most common mistake family members make that can compromise their deceased’s personal information.

What is deceased family member identity theft?

Deceased family member identity theft, otherwise known as “ghosting,” occurs when a fraudster uses the personal information of a deceased relative to apply for credit, open new accounts, or make purchases. 

Deceased identity theft can happen in several ways, including:

  • Thieves rummaging through trash looking for personal information such as bank statements or tax documents
  • Hackers gaining access to online accounts
  • Data breaches at companies that hold personal information
  • Family members or others with access to the deceased person’s records using their information without permission.

This type of fraud can be particularly difficult to detect, as it often takes months or years for the activity to show up on credit reports. In some cases, you may not discover the identity theft until you’re settling your loved one’s estate.

What are the consequences of deceased family member identity theft?

Deceased family member identity theft can have many consequences for the victim’s family, including:

  • Financial losses from unauthorized transactions
  • Damage to the deceased person’s reputation
  • Emotional distress for the victim’s family members
  • Difficulty obtaining life insurance or other benefits due to the deceased person’s compromised credit history

As a result, it’s important to be aware of the signs of this type of identity theft and to take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones. We’ll discuss these further in the following sections.

What are the signs of deceased identity theft?

There are a few signs that may indicate that a deceased person’s identity has been stolen. This includes:

  • Bills or other correspondence addressed to the deceased person
  • Calls or letters from debt collectors for debts the deceased person never incurred
  • Withdrawals from the deceased person’s bank account that you didn’t make
  • Unexpected changes, new accounts, and other charges to the deceased person’s credit report
  • Your credit report shows activity that you don’t recognize.

If you believe that you may be a victim of deceased identity theft, it’s important to act quickly. 

In the next section, we’ll discuss in more detail the steps you should take if you think you’re the victim of ghosting.

Steps to take if you experience deceased identity theft

If you believe that your loved one’s identity has been stolen, there are a few steps you can take to help mitigate the damage:

1. Contact the police and file a report.

Be sure to include any relevant information, such as the name of the deceased person, when the theft occurred, and how you discovered the crime. 

You should also provide the police with any documentation that you have, such as a copy of the death certificate.

Once you’ve filed a police report, you can then begin to take steps to resolve the issue.

2. Place a fraud alert or credit freeze on the deceased person’s credit

This will help to prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in the deceased person’s name.

To place a fraud alert, contact one of the major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion – and request that an alert be placed on the deceased person’s file. 

The agency will automatically coordinate this request with the other two. You’ll need to provide them with proof of death, such as a copy of the death certificate.

To place a credit freeze, you’ll need to contact each of the major credit reporting agencies and request that a freeze be placed on the account.

You will also need to provide proof of death for the agencies to process this request.

Taking these steps will help to protect the deceased person’s credit and prevent identity theft.

3. Notify the Social Security Administration of the death

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will work with you to resolve the issue and help protect your identity. They will flag the deceased person’s Social Security number, which will help to deter identity thieves from using it in the future.

4. Cancel all of the deceased person’s credit cards and accounts.

One important task to take care of when a loved one dies is canceling all of their credit cards and accounts.

This may seem like a daunting task, but it’s important to do in order to protect the deceased person’s finances and reputation.

If possible, gather a list of all of the deceased person’s credit cards and accounts before you begin contacting the companies. 

Once you have the list, you can start contacting the companies to cancel the cards and accounts.

Be sure to have the deceased person’s Social Security number and date of death handy, as these will be required in order to cancel the accounts.

While it may take some time to cancel all of the deceased person’s accounts, it’s an important step to take to protect their finances and reputation.

5. Monitor the deceased person’s credit report for any unusual activity.

One of the last things you may want to think about when a loved one passes away is monitoring their credit report. 

However, this is actually one of the most important steps you need to follow to protect your deceased loved one’s personal information. Unfortunately, it’s one that most family members forget about. 

Being aware of unusual activity on their account is crucial as it can help you identify any fraudulent charges and prevent them from affecting your own credit score.

You should request a copy of the deceased person’s credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies. You can request these reports at no cost, and they’ll list all of the open accounts in the person’s name.

Once you have the reports, you can review them for any unusual activity. If you see anything that looks suspicious, you can report it to the credit bureau and the financial institution involved.

How can you prevent deceased identity theft?

Deceased identity theft can have a serious financial impact on the victim’s family, as well as cause emotional distress. Here are some steps you can take to help prevent deceased identity theft:

1. Register the death with the National Death Index. This will help to ensure that no one else will be able to use the deceased person’s Social Security number.

2. Keep all important documents in a safe place and limit who has access to them. If possible, shred any documents that contain personal information before disposing of them

3. Contact the major credit reporting agencies and inform them of the death. This will help to ensure that scammers cannot open new accounts in the name of the deceased person.

4. Speak with a lawyer about setting up a trust or estate for the deceased person. This can help to protect their assets better and prevent fraudsters from gaining access to them.

By taking these steps, you can help to protect your loved one’s information from being used for fraudulent purposes and minimize the risk of deceased identity theft.


Deceased identity theft is a serious crime that can have devastating consequences for the victim’s family. By taking steps to protect your loved one’s information and monitoring their credit report, you can help to prevent this type of fraud from occurring. 

If you believe that your loved one’s identity has been stolen, be sure to contact the proper authorities and take action to protect your own finances.

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